What is derivative trading

What is Derivative Trading? Futures & Options Explained

Hello readers. One of the most frequently asked questions by Trade Brains’ readers is what is futures and options trading. In this article, we are going to cover this topic and discuss what is derivative trading along with explaining futures and options. Let’s get started.

What are Derivatives?

A derivative is a device whose monetary value is extracted from the value of one or more primary variables called bases. Here, the bases mainly indicate underlying assets, interest rate or indexes. These underlying assets further comprise equity, foreign exchange, commodity, or any other asset.

As the value of these underlying assets keeps fluctuating, these changes in value can help traders to earn profits from derivative trading. The most common types of derivatives are futures, options, forwards and swaps.

This evolution of the market for derivative products like Forwards, Futures, and Options dates back to the compliance of risk hesitant economic advocates to shield themselves against volatilities emerging out of ups and downs in asset prices. In other words, it acts as a hedging apparatus against oscillation in commodity prices.

Post-1970, financial derivatives majorly came under the limelight due to thriving fluctuations in the markets. Ever since they seeped into the picture, these products have gained quite a popularity and have reckoned for about two-thirds of total transactions in derivative products by 1990.

In the class of equity derivatives, Future and Options have acquired more eminence than individual stocks. The trend is especially prominent among institutional investors who are frequent partakers of index-linked derivatives. Financial markets are marked by an escalated amplitude of volatility but with the utilization of derivative products, it is viable to partially or fully shift the price risks by remanding the asset prices.

As equipment of risk management, these generally do not determine the inconstancy in the underlying asset prices. However, by tapping in asset prices, derivative products reduce the influence of fluctuations in asset prices on the profitability and cash flow scenario of risk-afraid investors.

Factors driving the Growth of Derivatives

In the last thirty years, the derivatives market has seen an exemplary advancement. A huge variety of derivative contracts have been introduced at exchanges across the globe. Some of the factors which are surging the cultivation of financial derivatives are:

  1. Elevated synthesis of national financial markets with the global markets.
  2. Considerable development in communication amenities and acute declination in their costs.
  3. Growth of more sophisticated risk management devices, providing economic agents with a variety of choices.

Derivative Products

Derivative contracts have diversified variants. The most basic variants are Forwards, Futures & Options. 

1. Forward Contract :

A forward contract is a customized contract between two individuals, where settlement takes place on a definite date in the future at the current pre-compiled price. Other contract details like delivery date, price, and quantity are negotiated bilaterally by the parties. The forward contracts are generally traded outside the exchanges.

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On the expiration date, the contract has to be settled by the delivery of the asset. If the party wishes to counterpole the contract, it has to imperatively go to the same counter-party, which often results in charging higher prices. In certain markets, Forward Contracts have become standardized like in the case of foreign exchanges. Such standardization reduces transaction costs and increases transaction volumes.

For example, let us consider an exporter who expects to receive payment in dollars three months later. He is exposed to the risk of exchange rate fluctuations. Thus, utilizing the currency forward market to sell dollars forward, he can clinch on to a rate today and diminish his uncertainty.

2. Futures Contract:

A futures contract is an alliance between two parties to purchase or sell an asset at a stipulated time in the future at a specific price. Futures contracts are special types of forward contracts that are traded on exchanges. Future Contracts also facilitate the elimination of risk and provide more liquidity to a market participant. The terminology of the Futures Contract consists of Spot Price, Futures Price, Contract Cycle, Expiry Date & Contract Size.

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For example, if you buy/sell a crude oil futures contract, you are agreeing to buy/sell a set amount of crude oil at a specific price (the price you place an order at) at some future date. You don’t actually need to take delivery of the crude oil, rather you make or lose money based on whether the contract you bought/sold goes up or down in value relative to where you bought/sold it. You can then close out the trade at any time before it expires to lock in your profit or loss.

3. Options  Contract:

Options are of two types namely, Calls & Puts. Calls give the buyer the authority but not the obligation to purchase a given quantity of the underlying asset, at a given price on or before a given future date. Puts give the buyer the authority, but not the obligation to sell a given quantity of the underlying asset at a given price on or before a given date. Unlike, Futures Contract, the purchase of an Option requires up-front payment. 

Also read: What Drives Stock Returns? (Divergence Analysis)

Participants in the Derivative markets

There are four broad categories of participants namely Hedgers, Speculators, Margin Traders, and Arbitrageurs. Let’s discuss each of them now:

1. Hedgers: Traders who aspire to secure themselves from the risk involved price actions generally participate in the derivatives market. They have been called hedgers because they try to hedge the price of their assets by undertaking an exact opposite trade in the derivatives market. 

2. Speculators: Unlike hedgers, Speculators look for opportunities to take on risk in the hope of making returns. These stark contrast in risk figuration and market views sets apart hedgers from speculators.

3. Margin Traders: Dealing with derivative products doesn’t require payment of the total value of the upfront position. Instead,  depositing only a fraction of the total sum does the work and is known as Margin Trading. Margin Trading results in a high leverage factor in derivative trade because, with a small deposit, one is able to keep a large outstanding position.

4. Arbitrageurs: Derivative instruments are valued on the basis of the underlying asset’s value in the spot market. However, there are times when the price level of stock in the cash market is lower or higher in comparison to its price in the derivatives market. Arbitrageurs tap the opportunities and exploit these blemishes and disorganization to their favor.

Arbitrage trade is a low-risk trade, where a parallel deal in securities is done in one market and a corresponding sale is executed in another market. Such a trade is carried out when the same securities are being quoted at different prices in two different markets.

For example, in the cash market, let us consider the price is quoting at Rs. 1000 per share. On the other hand, it is at Rs. 1010 in the futures market. An arbitrageur would purchase 100 shares at Rs. 1000 in the cash market and sell 100 shares at Rs. 1010 per share in the futures market, thereby making a profit of Rs. 10 per share.

Also read: The Stock Market Cycle: 4 Stages That Every Trader Should Know!

Summary: Derivative Trading

A derivative is a device whose monetary value is extracted from the value of one or more primary variables called bases. Here, the bases mainly indicate underlying assets, interest rate or indexes. Further, the asset can be anything from stocks, commodities, currency to interest rates.

The most common types of derivatives are futures, options, forwards and swaps. In derivative trading, the traders take advantage of the fluctuating value of underlying assets to make profits.

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